Comment: The following account is a heartfelt, personal, and dramatic illustration of psychopathy at work in a "normal" family situation. Many people will be able to identify with much, or even all of, this story and know from miserable but invaluable experience how just one solitary psychopath can victimize so many others, co-opt the legal and social systems and set up the primary victim to be the one with the problem. Vida's story of survival clearly reveals the insidiousness of psychopathy on the interpersonal level, and should leave us all with food for thought about the damage that can be wrought by more powerful psychopaths in positions of authority.
Hence, I was forced to face my demons and ask the difficult questions: How could my older children forget who I am and what I stand for? How can nurturing relationships suddenly become toxic? How could law enforcement professionals be duped? It took me years to understand what obscure and brutal forces altered my life, relationships, and circumstances. I had to question and investigate my deepest held beliefs, as I believed in the inherent good in all people. This was, without a doubt, the most damaging fallacy of my upbringing. Now, I understand that psychopaths delight in inflicting hurt and harm; it is their sport to seek out easy prey.
As I searched for the truth, information came to me in the form of books that explained and validated my inner knowledge and gut feelings. Dr Robert Hare, claims that with at least 2 million psychopaths in North America, virtually everyone will fall victim to a predator sometime during their life (Without Conscience p.2). Kevin Hogan and James Speakman explain techniques of Covert Persuasion, and, Amy J.L. Baker wrote Breaking the Ties that Bind which relates how children can be programmed and conditioned to act as child soldiers against a targeted parent. Psychopaths seem to thoroughly understand these strategies; perhaps they are innate. Therefore, be warned: the predator will choose you at your lowest ebb, then he/she will sense what you need and provide it. He or she will use mind manipulation strategies in the form of sublimations, Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) and other rhetorical devices. Your own morals and values will be used to control you and hold you captive. Once ensnared and entrapped, the psychopath will feed off you causing irreversible harm and devastation; you will never be the same again. This is the story of my misadventure.
My experience began as a 26-year-old single mother of three. I came from a severely dysfunctional family; my father was schizophrenic and my mother was bipolar; this would later be used by the psychopath to substantiate his claims of my mental instability. To make matters worse, between 1981-1983, death claimed my mother, my fiancé and my best friend. My world was shattered and I was metaphorically left battered and bleeding. Blood attracts predators, as does money and assets. Because my mother came from a wealthy family, money matters were challenged, tied up, and took years to resolve. Soon, an attractive man who claimed to be an artist, like my sister, entered my life, and like her, he was charming, articulate, entertaining, and highly intelligent. He seemed to know everything about world affairs, women's issues, and how to entertain children. He could add pizzazz to any conversation as he seemed to know a little about everything. He commented on how much one of my little girls reminded him of his twin daughters. I seemed to run into him all over town. He said it was fate that we should be married, and begged me to allow him to lift the sorrow from my heart. He said that it was as if he had known the children and me all his life and all he wanted to do was provide the security and happiness that the children and I deserved. Then, he invited us to visit relatives; good honest farm folk as wholesome as the gardens they grew. Mistaking him for an angel, I complied and married the familiar; he was, after all, like my sister.
The six years of our marriage unfolded in a very isolated prairie setting. I was brought there in a numbed state after the death of our first baby. There, I bore two others, a son and a daughter. I also did most of the work in our village store while he took care of "public relations". Our marriage unravelled after the distribution of the estate monies. He claimed to be impotent and stayed out all night, and after a year of refusing counselling, he suggested that I find myself a lover. Soon vicious rumours circulated around town. Though our marriage came to an end, Simon claimed to still love me and begged for shared custody. Hoping for an amiable separation like he had had with his first wife, and believing that fathers should have a solid place in the children's lives, I complied.
After a detailed lawyer-witnessed separation agreement, I had allowed Simon to depart with my children for the school year to spare the children the small town gossip and teasing at school, to show good will towards shared custody, to stabilize my circumstances, and to move our future home onto a property. However, soon after they were in school in a different province, Simon began maligning my character to the kids, to my family, and to my friends. He was so convincing that many believed his lies. One of his strategies was to upset the children to tears, then put them on the phone in the middle of the night to convince targeted people that I was losing it. Then, he would in turn get the believers to enforce his lies to my children! My lawyer had told me that, because of the agreement, we would have to go through the court system for me to get the children back. As some of you will know, this is a very long process. Hence, Simon took advantage of that entire school year to limit my access (although the agreement clearly stated "free access") and to continue his smear campaign against me. He also used the children as pawns to pressure me for money and material goods. Not understanding his behaviour, and on the advice of his concerned aunt, I began talking to his friends to discover that though he had pretended to be the father of twin girls from a previous relationship in which the woman and children that he phoned periodically were in fact only friends. He had maintained his deception for six years! He also walked away with my inheritance monies. While I was pregnant and in hospital for a month due to a placenta previa, I had placed my in-coming inheritance monies in a joint bank account so that he could stay home, pay bills and care for the children. Upon my return, he explained that we had no money left as he had paid off all our debts. These were later discovered to be left owing and overdue after his departure!
At the end of the school year, based on what he had heard about me, the court-appointed investigator recommended full custody to Simon even though he was only the natural father of two of the five children. Because of inappropriate conduct that I had witnessed during a very limited visit, I suspected that Simon had been priming the children sexually. Though I know that some unscrupulous women play this card to gain custodial advantages, I can assure you that this was not my primary motive. I had been deceived and manipulated, and was genuinely fearful for the children's well being as I realized that Simon is not the man he pretends to be. I confronted my eldest daughter and asked her if Simon had ever sexually touched her. She fell silent. I continued saying that after he had achieved custody that the sexual exploitation would likely escalate and that I would be rendered powerless and unable to help her. She then related numerous incidences when he would enter the bathroom and her bedroom unannounced, then make crude comments about her sexual development. On two separate occasions he fondled her breasts while she was sleeping. The police were called and took a long statement. However, charges were only laid a year later after I did the RCMP's work. I had discovered that because I was viewed as a "bitter participant in custodial matters," that the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) believed Simon, and so failed to check with the Bureau of Child Protection where, in fact, a concerned outside party had filed a report. Though Simon was in a winning position, he vanished and, no doubt, was involved in a criminal lifestyle living under the RCMP's radar...
Now, 20 years later, I discovered that there was a "Stay of Proceedings." This forces a few questions:
- Does a child molester get off because the RCMP is unable to locate him??
- Does this render him any less dangerous around children?
- Why wasn't I notified?!
I hadn't heard about Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) until a couple of years ago. However, it clearly describes what Simon had done to the children. My children were never the same again; they still believe a lot of lies and twisted truths and view me as unreasonable. They think that my understanding of the situation is flawed. This still affects our relationships. I now understand that PAS programming becomes part of children's memories/belief systems and, tragically, can stay with them for life. This at least allows me to be more patient and understand knowing that they too are victims. However, now, I am concerned that Simon's abuse will be perpetuated down to my grandchildren. The extended family also exhibit many of these symptoms as they became programmed in the same manner with the same programmed beliefs.
A few PAS strategies used by Simon:
- Upsetting children, putting them on the phone to upset relatives, then having these people reinforce parental alienation back to the kids by questioning my motives, integrity and sanity.
- Convincing children that I was not contributing financially despite heavy payments clearing Simon's bills and generous child support that wasn't even required by the courts.
- Having children solicit money and accuse me of not contributing - acting on behalf of the abuser.
- Portraying me as a slut to the kids despite his own promiscuity; he had impregnated a 20 year old that winter - despite his "impotency"!
- Threatening to walk out of an 8-year-old's life if she visited me while my new partner was around.
- Keeping the kids busy during my designated calling time by organizing outings and activities.
- Restricting my visiting and, again, using my kids as child soldiers to justify it...
- Convincing the kids that I didn't want them or care about them.
- Corrupting the children and teaching them that lying, deceiving and manipulating are "acceptable and normal behaviours".
It is easy to become bitter and cynical when one experiences betrayals and abuse. It also easy to doubt one's own perceptions and mental faculties when those you love are trying to convince you that you are "paranoid and need help!"
However, don't ever buy it. Investigate, work through the process, stand strong and trust your gut feelings. You too will survive and become wiser and stronger for having survived it all. Oh, and by the way, if you have endured such injustices and understand where I am coming from, welcome to the awake and enlightened. We will persevere!
Hare, Robert D., Without Conscience, The Guilford Press, 1999
Hogan Kevin and Speakman James, Covert Persuasion, New Jersey, John Wiley & Sons inc. 2006
Baker J.L. Amy wrote Breaking the Ties that Bind, New York, W.W. Norton & Company, 2007